The Arc Room, owned and operated by Navarre’s Karin Kokram, specializes in creating handcrafted art out of metal by using a combination of welding, torch cutting and blacksmithing.
NAVARRE — The plasma cutter doesn't get ignited without a warning.
"It gets about 40,000 degrees," Karin Kokram said. "So it's hot, like surface-of-the-sun hot. So stand back a bit."
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Kokram's company, The Arc Room, creates handcrafted art out of metal using a combination of welding, torch cutting and blacksmith processes, all of which keeps her in a perpetual state of motion in the driveway in front of her home most mornings ... and wielding the plasma cutter.
Kokram found the Arc Room in early 2019 and has carved out a unique lane from the start by specializing in the creation of decorative wall art, signs, sculptures and her specialty — patriotic, distressed flags.
That she can do more with her craft speaks to the versatility of Kokram and The Arc Room. She can also make hooks, BBQ skewers, turners, bottle openers and small knives. Wednesday morning, she showed some experimenting she was doing with creating medieval cutlery.
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"I have a pop-up (shop) during the summer if it's a trade show or an art show," Kokram said. "That's where I can set up tables and just be like 'Buy my things ... I'm an artist and I'm poor and I need to eat. And I also like to pay my bills.’“
Kokram likes to work with a sense of humor, and she specializes in flipping stereotypes (and gender roles) on their head.
"I was going to college and working on a pretty basic, random degree," Kokram said. "And I was doing that because that's what you're told you have to do your whole life, go to college, get a degree and get a job ... but at one point it was like 'OK, I don't see myself doing this,' and I was just there because everyone told me I needed to be there."
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Kokram dropped out and went through a brief period of self-pity — "I was drinking boxed wine and feeling bad for myself," she said — before she got a gentle nudge from her father, James Andel, a welding inspector.
"My dad kind of tugged on my shirt and said 'You like to race cars, you like to work with your hands, why don't you go to welding school?' " Kokram said. "His idea was that I could go to school and learn how to make roll cages and do fabrications, which I thought was a cool idea.
"And, honestly, I wasn't doing anything else with my life at the time. So it was going to go one of two ways, I was either going to hate it and be back to feeling sorry for myself and not doing anything, or I would love it ... and here we are."
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Kokram enrolled at Okaloosa Technical College in 2017 and earned her certificate in Welding Technology in 2018. With two months remaining at OTC and a good bulk of her coursework done, Kokram used that time experimenting with what her particular blend of metal and art might look like.
"Once I started learning how to weld and about fabrication and torch cutting, I started seeing what I could do," she said. "And we had lots of sheet metal around to experiment on. I look back now at what I was making at the time and it's like 'Wow, that doesn't look right,' but I'm still proud of it, because that's how all of this started.
"From my first flag to now, I can see a world of difference, so that's why I'm proud of where it started."
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Kokram is a member of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce and her work is also on display at The Destin Pearl, Ye Olde Brother's Brewery and 3rd Planet Brewing (Launchpad). Her website, www.thearcroom.com, offers a more extensive look at her work.
She's also adamant about keeping the "hand-crafted" part of her work in place when so many in her field are moving solely to CNC (computer numerical control) machines to complete jobs.
"I think that part of it, the hand-done part, is what makes it so unique," Kokram said. "You can make some great stuff with the CNC, sure, but there is a difference when you see what someone makes by hand. It's just different."